Editorial: Kirk, Duckworth should focus on issues, not insults

As if the campaign for president isn't ugly enough, Illinoisans are getting the added treat of a campaign for U.S. Senate that is nasty, negative and beneath both of the candidates.

We've known and respected Republican Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth for years. We have followed them closely. We have always been impressed by their sense of service, their professionalism and their moderate approaches to politics.

They both have extremely positive stories to offer.

But the campaign they are waging has been bitter and below-the-belt from the beginning.

In a tight race that's getting national attention, they each set the tone early with strategies that seemed bent on wounding the other with guilt-by-association claims that were just short of ridiculous. Kirk somehow wanted voters to believe that Duckworth was a shill to disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich because he appointed the wounded Iraq War veteran to lead the state's Department of Veterans' Affairs. Duckworth, of Hoffman Estates, took every opportunity to suggest that Kirk supports the controversial presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, despite the Highland Park Republican's early and frequent declarations to the contrary, capped off by his pointed refusal to attend his party's national political convention.

Along the way, each has unleashed a litany of twisted allegations about the other, and the race to the bottom reached a new low in the past week.

It started with an outrageous characterization by Kirk of a different Democrat - President Barack Obama. Kirk said Obama is acting like a "drug dealer in chief" for a payment to Iran that many Republicans consider to have been ransom for the release of U.S. hostages. Duckworth responded by calling Kirk "unhinged" and declaring he "lacks the ability to control his words" - to which Kirk responded that his opponent was mocking stroke victims like himself.

This is what the campaign for the United States Senate from Illinois has come to, a ceaseless exchange of insults and weakly supported accusations. A typical voter would be hard put to say where either candidate actually stands regarding such important and complex issues as foreign trade, climate change, Middle East policy, immigration or government spending.

It shouldn't be that way. It needn't be that way. We're all familiar with the caustic tenor of political discourse these days, but Kirk and Duckworth are two politicians with the stature and dignity to rise above the toxicity.

With a little over two months before Election Day, they have plenty of time to shape campaigns that emphasize their political positions, their considerable accomplishments and their compelling personal stories. We know both candidates are capable of that. More important, though, it's what voters deserve.

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